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Discovering Cuba – a country of contrasts

2 years ago by in ( BBON , Culture/Arts , News , Old/New , Uncategorized , Welcome to Brea )
Terri Daxon, pictured third from the left, poses with her North Orange County Chamber of Commerce group during a trip to Cuba.

Terri Daxon, pictured third from the left, poses with her North Orange County Chamber of Commerce group during a trip to Cuba.

    It was an opportunity not to be missed: Seven days visiting Cuba before throngs of American tourists and companies invade it.

      Our group of 37, booked through five Chambers of Commerce across the country, met in Miami for our “people-to-people” Cuban visit. Seven of us came from the North Orange County Chamber of Commerce to see and experience that intriguing island, once the playground of America’s rich and famous.

        Cuba of 2016 is a muddle of contrasts and often stuck in the past. We traveled in a modern Chinese-made touring bus, but I felt like we’d entered the 19th century. Our fancy bus whizzed down the highway, passing horse-drawn wooden wagons. Other times, we’d see oxen pulling a plow, or a goat-drawn wagon. Not everyone in Cuba drives a ’52 Chevy, or a Yank Tank as the old American cars are called, and many Cubans don’t own cars.

          While I expected to see Yank Tanks, I also expected a heavy military and police presence, including armored trucks and tanks, but did not. I’ve seen heavier police presence in New York’s Times Square than in Havana. We had no restrictions where we could go, and were only advised not to photograph at airports or military facilities.

            At Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s mausoleum and museum soldiers were present. My friend and I had our photo taken with a soldier on guard. He had a small, holstered pistol, no Uzi or bullet bandolier. And he smiled for the photo. Che’s image is everywhere on buildings, T-shirts and statues, especially in Havana.

              We learned from our Cuban guide, Yarni, that only recently were Cubans allowed at the beach resorts were we stayed for a few days. But the cost is prohibitive since Cubans earn about $20 a month. Yarni’s doctor husband earns $60 a month.

                While the beaches are postcard beautiful, valleys breathtaking, Havana’s sleek, modern structures are often next to old, crumbling buildings.

                  The Rolling Stones gave a free concert in Havana weeks before we attended a park concert where musicians played beautifully with very old instruments. Contrasts everywhere.

                    Even their currency is a contrast. Visitors use Cuban Convertible Pesos, or CUCs. Cuban nationals are often paid in both CUCs and CUPs, or Cuban Pesos. CUCs are more valuable. And American credit and debit cards are not accepted, but are expected to be soon.

                      While Cubans are still issued ration books for buying staples, and often face shortages, we were served cruise-line quality cuisine at our hotels and paladars, or family-run restaurants.

                        Our hotels had cable television with CNN, not available to the locals. Internet service is spotty, but many Cubans have cell phones and gather around a hot spot.

                          Cuba is a country of contrasts and is in transition; slowly working its way into the 21st century with friendly people who have a glimmer of hope for a more open, brighter future that I hope includes freedom of press.

                            Terri Daxon, a freelance writer, is the owner of Daxon Marketing Communications. Contact her at
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